Bengali community shares stories of life in Norwich
‘It is important to get the opportunity to include our stories equally, to ensure we feel that we belong here’

Spoken histories from the Bengali community in Norwich will be recorded and stored at Norfolk Record Office for the first time as part of our new National Lottery Heritage funded project celebrating the city’s migrant history.

Stories From the Quarter is a Norfolk-wide 18-month long programme led by NCW. It aims to connect more people and communities with the medieval and migrant heritage of Norwich’s medieval quarter, which runs from Lower King St to Magdalen St. Much of the activity will be focused within the 15th century Dragon Hall, one of 12 key heritage buildings in Norwich and home to NCW.

Hannah Garrard, Programme Manager at NCW, said:

‘Norwich’s stories of migration are an important part of its history, going back as far as the 15th century with the arrival of the Dutch weavers. This isn’t widely known. One of the aims of this project is to build a bigger picture of Norwich’s migrant history. The King St area and medieval quarter is of particular interest because it has the river as a connecting point to Europe and is also where people from many different cultures live and work, including Bengali people.’

Stories From the Quarter takes inspiration from the King St Community Voices, a project led by the Dragon Hall Heritage Volunteers which collected dozens accounts of people’s memories of living and working on King St throughout the 20th century. Members of the Bengali community in Norwich will record and share publicly their stories of how their families came to Norwich and what Bengali life looks like in the city today.

Since reopening in 2021 after the pandemic, NCW has hosted regular monthly community events for the Bengali community at Dragon Hall, using storytelling, creativity, and food to explore the building and celebrate their language and culture.

Hannah said:

‘Community is a huge part of Dragon Hall’s story – from the medieval merchant traders to the Victorian slum dwellers. Its purpose now is to be a welcoming space where people can engage in creative activity that is relevant to their lives and can bring people together in meaningful ways. We can do that by hearing and sharing each other’s stories, from those who lived in Dragon Hall and those who will walk through its doors today.’

Between March and April, a series of up to ten, one-hour long spoken histories will be recorded with Bengali people from different parts of the community and from different professions; including restaurant owners, medical practitioners, older residents who arrived in the aftermath of the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh, and those who have settled later as economic migrants.

These stories will be stored at Norwich Record Office and will be available online for everyone to enjoy. Transcripts will be translated into Sylheti and English.

Further activity planned for 2022/23 includes:

  • Creative writing workshops for the Bengali community
  • A series of creative sessions for young people in schools and at Dragon Hall
  • Development of a schools’ resource pack for lower key stage 2 children
  • An interactive public walking trail across libraries, Dragon Hall, Bengali community mosques, restaurants and schools (arriving late 2022)
  • A series of podcasts, featuring excerpts from the spoken histories and interviews with participants
  • A community open day celebration event (in early 2023)

Mahbubur Rahman has facilitated NCW’s monthly ‘Bengali Stories’ events at Dragon Hall and is coordinating the recording of the spoken histories. He said:

‘Recognising the underrepresented Bengali community in Norwich and hosting activities for them at National Centre for Writing, Dragon Hall has had a positive impact on the community.

‘As a British Bangladeshi in Norwich, I think it is important to get the opportunity to include our stories equally, to ensure we feel that we belong here. I hope that Stories From the Quarter will help the Bengali and wider community in Norwich to know and understand the city and its heritage in a vivid way.’

Bengali Stories is a relaxed, family-friendly event taking place on a Sunday each month at Dragon Hall on King St. Admission is free and everyone is welcome. Click here for details on our next event →

Stories From the Quarter is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by the National Centre for Writing.


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